WASHINGTON After weeks of bickering and doubt, Congress delivered a last-minute tax cut extension to 160 million workers Friday along with further unemployment benefits for millions laid off in the nation’s fierce recession and weak economic recovery.
Back-to-back voice vote approvals of the two-month special measure by the Senate and House came in a few seconds with no debate, just days after House Republican leaders had insisted that full-blown negotiations on a full-year bill were the only way to prevent an immediate tax increase on Jan. 1.
Most members of Congress were already gone for Christmas, leaving behind just a few legislators to take formal action. Obama was leaving in the afternoon for a delayed vacation in Hawaii.
The measure passed despite lingering grumbling from tea party Republicans. It buys time for talks early next year on how to finance the year-long extensions.
It will keep in place a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax — a salary boost of about $20 a week for an average worker making $50,000 a year — and prevent almost 2 million unemployed people from losing jobless benefits averaging $300 a week.
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